The Accidental Rise of PC Gaming
August 28, 2014
In the era of Microsoft DOS (Disk Operating System) and Microsoft Windows (Windows 3.0, 3.1 and Win95) something surprising happened - GAMES. If you go back to the 1985 - 1990, the PC became a popular tool in a company because of games. People would bring their PC in from home and use it to play games at work. It wasn’t this amazing breakthrough in productivity software that made the PC relevant, it was gaming. It was the ability for anyone at home to run to a store, buy a few components and put together your own gaming machine. Sure, games were simple at the time (Wolfenstein, Doom, Pipes, Leisure Suit Larry), but, you needed a PC and a VGA capable graphics card.
But this isn’t a story of 1990. This is a story of 2014. When we created the XBOX at Microsoft, we essentially signaled the end of PC gaming. All the effort inside of Microsoft shifted from creating games like Age of Empires, Golf, Fury3 or Flight Simulator (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_video_games_published_by_Microsoft_Studios#MS-DOS.2FWindows). Sure, the company still published some PC titles, but, the shift was on to building XBOX titles. You saw shifts in classic publishers move out of PC gaming and more into console gaming - as that was the future that was shown by Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. But, a few interesting things happened, Valve ended up creating Steam. A system that would allow it to auto-update its own games, but, became an App Store before App Stores where popular. Companies like Blizzard created World of Warcraft and continued creating titles like Starcraft, Diablo and other titles that were best suited for gaming mice and keyboard interaction. But, even with AAA PC titles, the PC gaming market felt like it was dying at such a fast rate that it was too late to save the patient. Then, the mobile phone, the smart phone came into being and small teams and independent developers saw their opportunity, and development resources switched once again to gaming in the palm of your hand. Again, silent forces at work were the MMO. In the kids space we have Club Penguin, Animal Jam and Moshi Monsters requiring a flash capable browser (a PC game), the rise of Minecraft, League of Legends and Gary’s Mod. All of a sudden, more kids were wanting an Alienware box to play PC games again.
The PC gaming ecosystem is stronger now that it has been in a long, long time. It was completely accidental that a resurgence has occurred. Steam is the primary driver of this resurrection, but, the ability to just go download a game from a site and start playing without paying or simply using a PayPal account is also a key factor. We have done everything to kill PC gaming, but, it is not dead. It is hear to stay and seemingly stronger than ever.
It would be foolish to run in and simply porting and moving every game to the PC. A kid doesn’t want to play Skylanders or Disney Infinity on a PC. Lego titles, while ported, are still more popular on a console or handheld than the PC. But, you need to look at your genre of game, think about the interaction model of the game, the way people and determine if you should build a PC game. A PC first strategy is actually something that can set you apart from the crowded mobile App Store. Being on Steam can generate millions instead of the thousands you will get from being 1 in a million on an App Store.